We live in a house rued with chaos and full of damaged miscellany belonging to broken people. Everything we touch and own is both mortal and doomed: game systems nonfunctioning and doors broken and unexplainable dents in the wall. Sometimes the light bulbs shatter or an iPod shuts offs permanently or the children stomp on laptops. Movies get scratched and will skip if you press play and wires are scissored and buttons jammed. Beds no longer hold up, knobs are wobbly and someone always drops the whole roll of toilet paper in the toilet. My mother locks the fridge with a chain so we’ll have food to eat. And for god sakes, if you love something, don’t leave it unattended.
Yet somehow we have learned to coexist with the abjection that rives at our sanity. As the days pass, we continue to outlast our possessions, to dodge the same fate of ruin that other items here have succumbed to, will continue to succumb to. It is not just inanimate objects at risk but all things as a whole.
It’s not a fact you realize immediately. The house looks like any other on the outside. Paint chipping and a bare flower tree on the front lawn and lots of bottles stacked and bagged in the backyard, because my grandmother sells them. Sometimes my grandmother brings in discarded items, old and broken things, many of them useless, and it all seems to pile up, with us unable to start fresh in the midst of all these old woes, and at night you hear clicking and scratching inside the walls, not rodents but old selves begging to be let out.
Our backyard is bigger than most, an attribute rare of many houses considering it’s New York, but our grass doesn’t grow and mostly the dirt looks dehydrated and barren and the concrete used to be cracked until we fixed that. A lot of weeds mob along the gates and my mother tries to grow tomatoes or carrots but those never get very big, so she brings in plants to try and lighten the atmosphere. “I don’t want to harbor other people’s agonies,” she says, when she goes on a cleaning binge to try and make things feel good. Everything is swept and scrubbed and the plants are showered with attention in hopes they’ll perk up and lend us some life. She talks to them and tends to them and waters them diligently, but the plants always die. I don’t think it’s any fault of hers; this just isn’t the kind of place to try and foster life. And so, instead of greenery to make the house seem more inviting, we kind of just have these oversized wilting leaves hanging around.
Eventually she gives up and buys vases of fake flowers instead, that look blooming and fresh all year long but somewhat stale. Sometimes looking at them reminds me of my mother wiping the table one morning, muttering, “Happy anniversary, my foot.”
“But Daddy brought you flowers.” I nodded at the bouquet on conceited center display.
“So what?” she said, frowning. “He’s not here, is he? He buys some flowers and they look nice, but what use is that? What meaning do they have if he leaves as soon as he brings them and in two days they’re already drooping? Flowers aren’t gifts. It’s just money to waste.” She sighs.
I sigh, too.
Inside, the chairs askew or a portrait uneven and things on the floor and nothing to eat and televisions blaring. In the hallway, mountains of shoes scattered on the floor with no foot to match and big buckets of unread junk mail and bags of things we don’t need (“but eventually they’ll be useful,” Madre insists). There are piles of: dishes in the sink, clean and unclean clothes in large heaps downstairs; some smell like fabric softener and others murk in grim, stinking corners. Only bill collectors call to say hello and I’ve been reading last week’s newspaper without even realizing it and my mother sits in the den trying to decipher the puzzle of the lottery so that maybe today will be the day she wins.
Downstairs always smells like smoke because my father has a room for his cigarettes even though he said he would stop and we’ve begged him to quit but we are only daughters, and the floor is cold in the winter so you have to wear two pairs of socks and two pants and five shirts and a sweater and some gloves. The cold is unbearable. Everyone hovers by the radiator or the electronic fire place and drinks hot chocolate until we’re out of clean cups and we’re still head to toe in goose bumps even so.
“Are you okay?”
The house feels oppressive at times. On certain days you are so caged in by the noise—where all the cohabitants seem to be bulging, ubiquitous manifestations of pollution, clogging the space with anger and tension. The washing machine in the basement rattles and violently shuffles all day long spitting clothes out, taking them in, rinse and repeat. We keep: changing outfits, faces, trying to look good or right and it’s so difficult for us. Everyone screams at each other, whether it’s to not change the channel or to use the computer or don’t eat the last snack, who was it—not me! You’re lying! I hate you!—and then crying, crying, always somebody fighting or hurt and it’s so bad and you misbehaved in school or you’re late going because what is even the point and everything is useless and everything hurts so we keep crying in the sad house, we keep crying until we don’t know why we feel anymore.
“I’m just tired.”
“You’re always tired. All you do is sleep.”
Our gloom lives among us as an unseen presence, silent and passive, a concentration of melancholia that strokes our cheeks goodnight. Melancholia sits down to dinner but doesn’t touch the plate. Melancholia makes the food taste wrong and turns the hot shower water lukewarm to cold, and is responsible for restless nights and tells us we are worthless. We agree with Melancholia when he advises we argue amongst ourselves or cry long hours in bed or throw tantrums. We thank Melancholia for taking away our control and making victims out of us. He has given us our fractured dispositions—my tears and I are grateful, and my sister’s panic attacks are a blessing, and my restive brothers are so fortunate to have Melancholia know our mother well enough to strike her with bouts of irritability and dissatisfaction until she’s too fed up to bother managing them or us. Melancholia sleeps besides me and hogs the covers. He watches us, always and carelessly. I cannot recall how long he has resided here, but I cannot recall how life went without him.
This is why everyone takes as long as they can to come home. Sometimes coming I take the long way or miss my stop on purpose and do whatever I can to distill my arrival. If there is ever an open invitation to go anywhere else, to do anything else, I am available. I am ready. I wish the train ride was longer, though. I get home too soon.
“I know. I’m going to lie down.”
“You don’t want any dinner? It’s almost done.”
“Not really. I’m not hungry.”
Always last to walk in is Father in the evenings with his suitcase, always on the phone, talking to a client or company or family or anyone but us. Just a few minutes before he comes in, Madre leaves for work, and if you are like me you’re always the first to kiss her goodbye just in case. After she’s closed the door and locked it behind her, you can stand there for a minute and smell the ephemeral whiffs of her perfume.
“Are you sure?”
I don’t see much of my father because I’m usually upstairs playing this game where I pretend I’m an only child. It involves closing the door and blasting music and fooling around on my cell phone instead of doing homework. Sometimes I wonder why have phones when no one calls or no cares and I’m always so tired. Too tired to talk or to write and I come here to cry because I know this is the best place for it. It’s hard to feel good on the inside; the house is so heavy with sad, all my tears are here, and I am so overwhelmed.
“I’m fine. Goodnight.”
In my room, which has two windows, not enough light shines in. The bedroom is too small and cluttered with unread books and incomplete journals. I scatter my clothes wherever they land once taken off. I try to keep comfortable. Often relaxing involves stripping down until you’re nothing but your skin. After that, everything kind of stops and you just have to breathe slow even if the air feeds you dust instead of oxygen. You walk in and the world outside—its breeze and freedom dead here. There are crumbs everywhere. The bed is unmade. The carpet has not been swept in days. Melancholia doesn’t care, and gladly seeps into the mattress and pillow where I lay to rest my mind and body as I try to still the spinning inside of me, and for a brief moment there is solace, short-lived but welcome. And in the twilight, the curtains flutter not with bright wind but little gusts desperate and forced, like dry heaves from the mouth of a cloud.